From the Vault: December 22, 2016
Some Christmas word origins
The word "Christmas" is a shortened form of "Christ's mass". It comes from the Middle English Cristemasse, which in turn comes from the Old English Crīstesmæsse. “Crist” derives from the Greek “Khrīstos”, a translation of the Hebrew word for "Messiah", meaning "anointed". “Mæsse” is from the Latin missa, the celebration of the Eucharist.
Xmas is an abbreviation of Christmas based on the initial letter chi (Χ) in Greek, Khrīstos meaning “Christ".
The word “carol” derives from the Old French word “carole”, a circle dance accompanied by singers Carols were very popular as dance songs from the 1150's to the 1350's, after which their use expanded as processional songs sung during festivals. Others were written to accompany religious mystery plays (such as the Coventry Carol, written before 1534).
Carols were traditionally sung in Latin by clergy of the Catholic church. Following the Protestant Reformation, reformers believed that carols were for everyone to sing, and aimed at bringing music "back to the people". To enable the common person to sing church music, great efforts were made to translate musical texts from Latin into the native languages that people spoke. At the same time, the Protestant church fought to reduce Catholic church’s stranglehold on sacred music. Composers such as William Byrd composed works for Christmas that they termed carols. This spread and eventually a large body of Christmas songs with religious themes came to be regarded as Christmas carols.
The following item is dedicated to fellow trivia team member Carol B:
Three men died on Christmas Eve and were met by Saint Peter at the pearly gates."In honour of this holy season," Saint Peter said, "You must each possess something that symbolises Christmas to get into Heaven."The first man fumbled through his pockets and pulled out a lighter. He flicked it on. "It represents a candle," he said. "You may pass through the pearly gates," Saint Peter said.The second man reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. He shook them and said, "They're bells." Saint Peter said, "You may pass through the pearly gates."The third man started searching desperately through his pockets and finally pulled out a pair of women's panties.St. Peter looked at the man with a raised eyebrow and asked, "And just what do those symbolise?"The man replied, "They're Carol's."
The “–toe” of mistletoe is an Old English word for “twig”.
The “mistle–“ part is more puzzling.
Originally, the mistletoe plant was just called “mistel”, which in Old English was also used as a word for birdlime, a sticky substance pasted onto the branches of trees to trap birds.
How these two meanings came together in mistletoe is unclear, but one idea is that because birds would eat mistletoe berries and then excrete the seeds elsewhere (with their waste acting as a fertilizer), mistel might originally have meant bird droppings, in the related sense of a sticky, unpleasant substance.
Mistletoe is a plant that grows on range of trees. The tradition of hanging it in the house goes back to the times of the ancient Druids. It is supposed to possess mystical powers which bring good luck to the household and wards off evil spirits. It was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology, hence the origin of the custom of kissing under mistletoe comes from. The original custom was that a berry was picked from the sprig of mistletoe before the person could be kissed and when all the berries had gone, there could be no more kissing!
The early Christian church sought to ban mistletoe because of its association with Druids.
Holly became a Christian substitute for mistletoe, which is why we 'deck the halls' with it. The sharply pointed leaves in holly were supposed to symbolise the thorns in Christ's crown and the red berries were to symbolise his blood.